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A Dungeons & Dragons character class
Publication history
First appearance Supplement I - Greyhawk
Editions All except BD&D
(as an alternate class) OD&D

The paladin is one of the standard playable character classes in most editions of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game.[1] The paladin is a holy knight, crusading in the name of good and order, and is a divine spellcaster. From 1st through 3rd edition, paladins were required to maintain the Lawful Good alignment.

In addition, compared to other classes the paladin class has one of the most restrictive codes of conduct in their single-mindedness and utter devotion to good. Paladin characters are expected to demonstrate and embody goodness. In some editionsTemplate:Vague it was taboo for a paladin to lie or use poison, and some interpretations say they should only use stealth as a last resort. Other restrictions are sometimes laid on the paladin depending on campaign setting, ranging from restricting the class to the point of making it comically unplayable to a class that only differs from other warrior classes in its additional divine powers. Failure to maintain a lawful good alignment or adhere to the code of conduct causes paladins to lose their paladin status and many of their special abilities until they are able to atone.

With the introduction of the 4th edition of D&D, paladins become champions of a chosen deity instead of just righteous warriors. There are other important changes, for example, paladins can be of any alignment, and can no longer fall in disgrace and lose their paladinhood.

Publication history[]

Creative origins[]

The development of the Dungeons and Dragons Paladin, first introduced in the original Greyhawk supplement, was heavily influenced by the fictional character Holger Carlson from Poul Anderson's novel "Three Hearts and Three Lions", which was in turn based on the epic poetry of the Chansons de geste.[2] Also mentioned as a basis were the paladins of Roland, the Palatine Guard of Augustus deified, the Papal Guard of the same name, and the Christian myths of King Arthur.

Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1976)[]

The paladin was introduced in Supplement I - Greyhawk (1975), as a subclass of fighting man.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)[]

The paladin was one of the standard character classes available in the original Player's Handbook.[3] The paladin was one of five subclasses presented in the original Players Handbook.[4]:145 In the 1st edition of Dungeons & Dragons the paladin class had very high ability score prerequisites, and stipulated that only human characters could be paladins. Despite this, several Dragon magazine articles describe paladins of other races besides human and of other cultures besides the Western European chivalric romance notion of a true Christian knight.

In the Players Handbook, paladin appeared as a sub-class, and while a paladin was now much more powerful, paladins have to satisfy more rigorous criteria.[5] When Unearthed Arcana was first published in 1985, the paladin class became a sub-class of the newly introduced cavalier class.[6]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)[]

The paladin, as part of the "warrior" group, was one of the standard character classes available in the second edition Player's Handbook.[3] The second edition Player's Handbook gives a several examples of heroes throughout legend and history who could be called paladins: Roland and the 12 Peers of Charlemagne, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Sir Galahad.[7]

With the release of AD&D 2nd Edition the paladin class reverted to being tied to the fighter group. With elements of the cavalier class, it was reintroduced as a character kit in The Complete Fighter's Handbook, published in 1989,[8] and finally got its own recognition in The Complete Paladin's Handbook, published in 1994.[9]

As in 1st edition, the paladin class had very high ability score prerequisites, and stipulated that only human characters could be paladins.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000–2007)[]

While there are no specific ability score requirements, a Paladin character in 3rd edition is still advised to have some high scores in order to be effective. These abilities are:

  • Strength & Constitution: As their class makeup and general honor code favor front-rank combat, Strength and Constitution are both important to Paladins in order to deal and withstand damage in melee.
  • Charisma: Charisma is key to the Paladin's most crucial abilities: Lay on Hands (for healing) and Smite Evil (to harm malign creatures) both function relative to Charisma bonus, as does Divine Grace, which grants improved saving throws (commonly used to resist harmful magic). Turn Undead is also bolstered by Charisma.
  • Wisdom: Though generally less critical than Charisma, a good Wisdom score is necessary in order for a Paladin to access divine spells at higher levels.

Other Paladin class abilities include the ability to detect evil at will, immunity to fear and disease, the ability to cure disease, the opportunity to use "holy avenger" swords with imbued divine spells or extra damage to evil creatures, and to summon a "special mount" - usually a heavy warhorse of unusual strength and intelligence. Their spell-casting and Turn Undead abilities are similar to but weaker or more specialized than comparable cleric abilities.

Typical tenets of the Paladin code are as follows (though many variants exist):

  • A Paladin must be of Lawful Good alignment.
  • A Paladin may never willfully commit an Evil act.
  • A Paladin cannot associate with any character who persistently commits acts which would cause the Paladin him/herself to Fall - notably Evil creatures.
  • A Paladin must remain truthful and forthright at all times.
  • A Paladin must give fair warning and due quarter to enemies.
  • A Paladin holds stealth, subterfuge, attack from the rear, missile weapons and especially poison as weapons of last resort.

Occasional, necessary, minor deviations are permissible, but a single gross violation of his/her code of conduct will strip the Paladin of powers until he/she Atones. Acts of Evil or alignment shift always qualify. (Atonement typically involves a quest or undertaking by way of penance, but forced or accidental violations may waive this requirement.)

The Paladin class is available to all races, although most Paladins are still human. The class is notably uncommon among savage humanoids such as orcs and goblins, where good-aligned beings are rare.

Similarly to Monks, Paladins cannot consistently multiclass. Adding levels to any other class permanently halts progression as a Paladin, to reflect the devotion and single-mindedness of purpose expected of the class. However, all class abilities are retained in such cases. Certain feats found in the Complete Adventurer and the Eberron campaign setting permit normal multiclassing (e.g. Eberron's Knight Training feat permits multiclassing with any one chosen class, and permits the same benefit to monk levels if that is the class chosen). Some prestige classes also waive this restriction (typically classes built especially for Paladins). A Fallen Paladin can choose to trade in their levels for equivalent Blackguard powers.

Certain accessory products, most notably the Unearthed Arcana, feature variant Paladins such as the Lawful Evil Paladin of Tyranny, the Chaotic Evil Paladin of Slaughter, and the Chaotic Good Paladin of Freedom (with the base Paladin being called "Paladin of Honor"). Under this scheme, Paladins become complementary to Druids, championing the extreme "corner" alignments just as Druids are champions of the partly Neutral "cross" alignments. However, issue 310 of Dragon magazine featured a "Paladin" for each alignment (for example, a Neutral Good Sentinel).

Aasimar have Paladin as their favored class.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-2014)[]

With the installment of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, paladins are now champions of a chosen deity rather than just being a righteous warrior. As such, paladins may also have a different alignment from the traditional lawful good, however the paladin's alignment must correspond with his/her chosen god. Another new feature is the permanence of paladinhood. Once a character is ordained as a paladin, he/she cannot fall or have powers stripped in any way. This can allow players to avoid having to "police" their fellow party members, but depending on one's god, it may be encouraged to curb any excessively evil behavior. It is stated that failing to live up to one's deity's tenets will result in that paladin's compatriots hunting down and judging their wayward members.

Smite Evil has also been replaced with various "smites" and "strikes" as part of the paladin's power set, which are defined as Prayers (the term used for divine classes' powers). Two builds are presented in the Player's Handbook: the Avenging Paladin, based on Strength and offense, and the Protecting Paladin, based on Charisma and defense. Strength-based attack prayers are generally weapon-based and limited to melee range, while Charisma-based attack prayers include both melee weapon attacks and ranged implement-based attacks. Paladins also have the divine challenge class feature, which causes a targeted opponent to take damage when it makes an attack which doesn't include the paladin, as well as "marking" that opponent, which penalizes any attack roll the opponent makes against a target other than the marking character. In place of a bonded mount, they can have powers at later levels that allow them to teleport across the battle field to aid endangered allies. The paladin was initially the only class in 4th edition to have plate armor proficiency at first level. Since then, the Knight (a variant of the fighter, first presented in Heroes of the Fallen Lands) and two more paladin variants, the Cavalier (Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms) and the Blackguard (Heroes of Shadow), also have this ability. Paladins may also take special feats related to their deity with their Channel Divinity class feature.

Many paladin prayers benefit from high Wisdom, and like clerics, paladins can use holy symbols as implements. Paladins no longer have the innate ability to remove disease or have immunity to diseases or fear, but can gain powers that allow other characters to make saving throws for status ailments that can be ended as such, as well as bolster resistances to negative status effects. Paladins also have the highest amount of healing surges out of any class, which when combined with their lay on hands ability, allows them to act as emergency healers. In 4th edition, Paladins use the standard multiclassing rules instead of having special multiclassing restrictions like they did in the previous edition.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014-)[]

The paladin has been included as a character class in the 5th edition Player's Handbook.[10]

In 5th Edition, paladins commit themselves to the path of righteousness and justice and can choose one of three sacred oaths that encompasses the nature of their holy quest.

  • Oath of Devotion: paladins who appeal to the loftiest ideals of justice, virtue, and honor. Those who take this oath are Lawful Good, following the tenants of Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Honor, and Duty. Nicknamed cavaliers, white knights, or holy warriors.
  • Oath of the Ancients: paladins who cast their lot in with the side of the light in the cosmic struggle against darkness because they love the beautiful and life-giving things of the world, not necessarily because they believe in principles of honor, courage, and justice. Those who take this oath are typically Neutral Good, putting the principles of good above concerns of law or chaos, and follow the tenants of Kindling the Light, Sheltering the Light, Preserving Their Own Light, and Being the Light. Nicknamed fey knights, green knights, or horned knights.
  • Oath of Vengeance: a solemn commitment to punishing those who have committed grievous sins. Those who take this oath are typically either Lawful Neutral or Neutral due to their willingness to forsake their own righteousness to mete out justice upon those who do evil. Their tenants are simple: Fight the Greater Evil, No Mercy for the Wicked, By Any Means Necessary, and Restitution. Nicknamed avengers or dark knights.

Paladins can be any of alignment, although evil paladins are extremely rare. However, their Oath and their alignment can either be in harmony, or their Oath might represent standards that they have not yet attained.

Party role[]

Paladins exist primarily as melee combatants with limited divine spellcasting options. Outside of battle, paladins often function as diplomats or negotiators due to their high Charisma scores. Prior to 4th Edition, they lack raw focus on a certain aspect of the game, like a rogue attacking from the shadows or a wizard casting spells, but in turn they rather combine high hit point totals with overall good martial combat options and access to some divine spells and feats. In 4th Edition, paladins belong to the defender role, focusing on protecting allies both directly and through deterrence. In addition to their defender capabilities, paladins also possess some buffing and healing abilities.

Paladins are usually very effective at fighting undead opponents. Prior to 4th edition, this is due to their ability to turn undead, their immunity to diseases, and their strong resistances to level draining, mind domination, and other harmful effects, while in 4th Edition, this is due to their ability to inflict radiant damage with many of their powers, to which many undead creatures are vulnerable. Paladins with holy weapons, and, in 3rd and 3.5 Editions, their Smite Evil ability, are often able to do tremendous damage to undead and evil opponents, and in some editions of D&D can even dispel the magic of evil spellcasters.[11] Prior to 4th Edition, Paladins also have access to a magically powerful mount, often a warhorse, but sometimes a more exotic animal such as a griffin or dragon. This enables them to be more mobile, and they often act as cavalry in combat.

Campaign settings[]

Dark Sun[]

Paladins do not exist in Athas.[12]


In the Eberron campaign setting, the most famous paladins belong to the religion of the Silver Flame, and are known for their monotheistic worship and their crusades against lycanthropes and demons. The Silver Flame religion venerates the paladin Tira Miron, who sacrificed herself to defeat a powerful demon.

Forgotten Realms[]

All paladins in the Forgotten Realms are devoted to patron deities of either Law or Good, and often permitted to obtain special training based on the divine portfolio of their patron deity. Lord Piergieron, leader of the Lords of Waterdeep (the most prominent city in the Forgotten Realms), is a paladin.

In video games[]

The paladin's specialties in most Dungeons & Dragons video games are its high defense, its ability to cast spells and especially its proficiency against undead monsters. Software versions of Dungeons & Dragons such as Neverwinter Nights often loosen the requirements for playing a paladin to simply being lawful good in alignment, and the paladin's unique position and alignment restriction is very rarely apparent in these software versions (with the exception of The Temple of Elemental Evil) where the paladin can search dead bodies and unprotected chests and lockers without moral penalties. This bothers many "hardcore" pen-and-paper role-players who see the paladin's limitations as part of what makes it an interesting class to play.[citation needed] For example, in the game Icewind Dale II paladins will often refuse the rewards for quests if they represent the party to the quest-giver, since "[the] paladins of Icewind Dale do not accept monetary gain for their just deeds."[13]

Paladins are more rarely represented in early role-playing video games.


  1. Livingstone, Ian (1982). Dicing with Dragons, An Introduction to Role-Playing Games (Revised ed.). Routledge. ISBN 0-7100-9466-3. 
  2. DeVarque, Aardy. "Literary Sources of D&D". Archived from the original on 2007-07-21. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Schick, Lawrence (1991). Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games. Prometheus Books. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-87975-653-5. 
  4. Ewalt, David M. (2013). Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4516-4052-6. 
  5. Turnbull, Don (December 1978 – January 1979). "Open Box: Players Handbook". White Dwarf (Games Workshop) (10): 17. 
  6. Unearthed Arcana, by Gary Gygax, published 1985, ISBN 978-0-88038-084-3
  7. Cook, David (1989). Player's Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  8. The Complete Fighter's Handbook, by Aaron Allston, published 1989, ISBN 978-0-88038-779-8
  9. The Complete Paladin's Handbook, by Rick Swan, published 1994, ISBN 978-1-56076-845-6
  10. "Keeping it Classy | Dungeons & Dragons". 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2014-09-21. 
  11. Dungeon Master's Guide July 1, 2003, Wizards of the Coast. See "Holy Avenger" in the item section.
  12. Swan, Rick (September 1992). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR) (#185): 65–66. 
  13. "Paladin". GameBanshee. 


External links[]

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